What Actually Happens When Women Run & Win Elections

Ad failed to load

Jess Phoenix isn't afraid of a challenge. A geologist who studies the formation and eruption patterns of volcanoes, Phoenix’s work has taken her to some of the most remote and dangerous parts of the planet. But this spring, she decided to tackle a new challenge: Phoenix is part of a small but growing contingent of American women who have chosen to run for office since the 2016 presidential election.

In April 2017, Phoenix, a Democrat, announced her plans to run for California’s 25th Congressional District, a district that, despite going for Hillary Clinton in 2016, has been held by Republicans since 1990. Today, she will run against Steve Knight, who’s been described as “the most vulnerable incumbent in California," and potentially make it to Congress — a place where she hopes "I can make a very big impact and really start to make a difference for people really soon.”

Phoenix is part of what many hope will be a new, rising wave of female legislators. But getting more women in office isn't just about increasing gender parity in the U.S. government; when women get involved in the government, they actually change how it functions, in a way that benefits women, families, and the country at large.

Ad failed to load

How Female Politicians Change The Government

Female legislators, by and large, govern differently than their male counterparts. Women, in all parties, are more likely to focus on issues relating to women, families, children and social welfare. According to a 2011 study in the American Journal of Political Science, female Congress members secure roughly nine percent more spending from federal discretionary programs than their male colleagues. Women also sponsor and cosponsor significantly more bills than male congressmen. A 2010 study conducted by the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions discovered that the average minority female representative in Congress has “a 29 percent greater volume of sponsored legislation reaching the floor of the House and 30 percent more laws resulting from her sponsored legislation than does the typical minority party man.” Additionally, districts that elect women to the House of Representatives receive about $49 million more each year.

"We get more things done. We don't stand on ceremony."
Ad failed to load

More research published in the Journal of Politics found that women at the state assembly level are more likely than men to push for rehabilitation programs instead of punitive policies, and that female city council members spend more time doing constituency service than their male members.

“Women are more effective in public office than men,” Letitia James, New York City’s public advocate, and the first woman of color to hold citywide office, tells Bustle. “We get more things done. We don't stand on ceremony. I think most of the women that I work with, our focus each and every day when we wake up is, how can we improve the life of someone today?”

Andrew Burton/Getty Images News/Getty Images
Ad failed to load

This isn't just theoretical — recent political history is full of examples of female politicians who seem to prioritize getting things done. While Arizona Senator John McCain was the name in the news when it came to opposing President Trump’s health care bill, two female senators — Republicans Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine — were the first to voice their opposition to repealing the Affordable Care Act without having replacement legislation on the table.

Four years earlier, when the government was on the brink of a shutdown, it was also Collins who presented a three-point prevention plan and rallied support from across the aisle. The first three Senators to reach out in support? All women — Murkowski, New Hampshire Republican Kelly Ayotte, and Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat from Minnesota.

“I’ve always thought that was significant,” Collins later told the New York Times. “And indeed, we put together a plan for the reopening of government, and women led the way.”

Ad failed to load

Deborah Glick regularly works across party lines in her role as a Democratic member of the New York State Assembly, and firmly believes that more women in power would lead to better outcomes across the board, particularly in education and healthcare.

“What we try to do is find issues that we agree on,” she tells Bustle. “We’ve worked on increased funding for breast cancer [research]. We've worked on some childcare issues. We try to find issues where women are the group most impacted where we can agree on some solutions.”

Ad failed to load

Glick notes that the professions most impacted by budgets are ones that employ vast numbers of women, like teaching and health care: "Nobody ever thinks that you can cut or make changes in law enforcement or defense, but they're totally happy to mess with education and cuts to healthcare at the lower levels.” More women in office likely means more push back against these kinds of attempts to cut funding.

"Even with the gender gap in political ambition, you could certainly identify 435 women to run for office."

New York State Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has also been an ardent believer in the impact of women in elected office — she even founded Off the Sidelines, a PAC focused on supporting women in politics. As she told New York Magazine in April, “Just literally having 51 percent of women in Congress representing the diversity of our country: You would have different issues raised, different solutions being offered, you’d have less partisan bickering. Because our disposition is to help.”

Ad failed to load

Why Don't More Women Run For Office?

Of course, before women can win elections and change the government, they need to run. Though women make up a more significant share of national and state lawmakers than ever before — the US Congress includes nearly 15 percent more women than it did in 1989, according to 2015 research from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research — there's still a long way to go. Only 19 percent of members of Congress and 25 percent of all state legislators are female. Since the 2010 congressional elections, we've has actually seen the first net decrease in the percentage of women serving in Congress since the 1978 midterms. Only six states have female governors.

That looks particularly stark in comparison to countries like Rwanda, which has a Parliament that’s 61 percent women, as well as Sweden, South Africa, Angola, and Cuba, which all surpass the U.S. when it comes to women in office.

Ad failed to load

Our numbers are surely influenced by the fact that there are few initiatives in place to get women into office. 19 countries in Europe, 13 in sub-Saharan Africa, and 11 in Latin America have applied some form of quota which mandates a certain number of women in legislatures and create laws or incentives for the recruitment of female candidates. Nothing like that exists in the United States.

None of this means that the U.S. lacks qualified women — we just lack the infrastructure to encourage them to run. “If the parties decided that they wanted to recruit female candidates, they could find one in every single congressional district. Even with the gender gap in political ambition, you could certainly identify 435 women to run for office,” Jennifer Lawless, director of the Women and Politics Institute at American University, tells Bustle. “There’s just no incentive for them to do so and no premium that’s placed on it.”

There are also a lot of roadblocks that prevent women from seeing themselves as politicians. A 2012 report from American University's Women & Politics Institute identified a few primary reasons why women don’t run, including that women believe the electoral environment is both highly competitive and biased against female candidates and, most frustratingly, that women don’t feel they’re qualified.

Ad failed to load
"We need to get young girls to understand that they should not be afraid of power or being smart."

As Lawless — who is also one of the co-authors of the report — explains, many women still perceive running for office as something not within reach of an ordinary person: “In a wide range of professional settings, politics included, women do seem to be more risk-averse, and doubt their confidence to succeed in male-dominated environments.”

The same report also highlights the fact that women are less likely than men to be asked to run for office in the first place. “Women have to be asked, and that's part of the job of people who are in office. Since most of the people who are in office are men, they're tending to ask other men or encouraging other men,” explains Glick.

Ad failed to load

But the situation isn't hopeless. A 2003 study in the Journal of Politics found that merely being exposed to competitive female political candidates can increase subsequent engagement among women. Similarly, a 2006 Journal of Politics study discovered a definite correlation between visible female politicians and young girls’ expectations of political engagement.

Spencer Platt/Getty Images News/Getty Images

“We often invite groups to visit the City Council when they're in session, and I always make it my business to invite young girls up to the rostrum and to have a seat in the chair of power — to get a sense of what it's like to preside over a legislative body,” says James. “We need to get young girls to understand that they should not be afraid of power or being smart.”

Ad failed to load

Of course, once a woman has overcome these challenges, she must then figure out what office to run for, and perhaps most importantly, how to get on the ballot — something that Zainab Baloch, a 26-year-old from Raleigh, N.C., discovered when she decided to run for city council earlier this year. “It’s very hard to find rules, and the process is not easy at all, especially for someone who’s never run,” Baloch tells Bustle.

“Even when a woman has sort of started to explore the idea of running for office, it is really daunting to dive in and tackle what those first steps look like,” Erin Loos Cutraro, the founder and CEO of She Should Run, a non-partisan organization that offers resources to women considering political office, tells Bustle. “When women do step into the space of considering a political journey, they are not greeted with the same traditional boy's club network that men experience when they run for office."

Why You Should Run

But, Loos Cutraro notes, women interested in running aren't on their own — there are resources available to help women navigate these steps: ”Organizations like She Should Run, Emily’s List, the Women’s Campaign Fund, Run for Something, and others, serve to bridge this gap, offering communities and resources for women looking to take those first steps to run for office...There are tremendous training programs. There are programs that help women make the connections that they need to run. There are programs that help women raise money. There are PACs.”

Ad failed to load

Should we ever reach that coveted 50 percent representation, Loos-Cutraro thinks we’ll have the most robust government possible. “It doesn't mean we will reach perfection. But there will be no question that we have, at that point, tapped the full talent pool that our country has to offer.” In the meantime, we can make sure that women are aware of the offices and resources available to them and, most importantly, help women decide if and why they genuinely want to serve in an elected position.

"I see people like Maxine Waters, and Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi and I say, despite the odds, be like them."

Despite the challenges of running for office, Baloch is finding the process to be worth it. “There are definitely days where I’m like, ‘Oh my God, what am I doing, this is crazy?’ Then you talk to people and realize how much impact you could have, and it’s overwhelming,” she says. “You realize the importance of having different people in government and [that] people really do want their government to do more for them.”

Ad failed to load

James advises that women considering a run should channel the spirit of those who have gone before us, as she does every day in her work.

“For me, it's the spirit of Fannie Lou Hamer, the spirit of Barbara Jordan, Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, and then I see people like Maxine Waters, and Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi and I say, despite the odds, be like them,” she tells Bustle.

“Be like all of the she-roes whose spirit runs through your veins, listen to them. Don't listen to that spirit that questions you.”

Ad failed to load
Must Reads

What I Learned About Work-Life Balance After Relapsing From Alcohol Addiction Recovery

Almost two years ago, I woke up in a hotel room, groggy and dehydrated, with my clothes all over the room and my nightstand filled with mini bottles of liquor. I had spent the previous two days drinking all the alcohol in my mini bar. I'm not sure wh…
By Irina Gonzalez

Everything Leaving & Coming To Netflix In March, So You Can Plan Your Next Marathon Now

Even though the groundhog saw his shadow — forecasting six more weeks of winter — a nice spring thaw is already on everyone's minds. Fortunately, Netflix has things squared away for March. Whether you're ready to cozy up in front of a fire or get you…
By Sophy Ziss

11 Thoughts That Mean You’re Not As Happy With Your Partner As You Might Think

Even if your current dating situation seems to be going well — you're hanging out, having fun, having sex, etc. — it's still possible that you might not be happy with your partner, and thus not truly happy in your relationship. This can be a gut feel…
By Carolyn Steber

25 Book Recommendations From Your Favorite TV Characters

Although the two may seem like natural enemies, the truth is, television and reading are a match made in bibliophile heaven. Not only are some of the best shows based on or inspired by literature, but whenever you turn on the tube you can be sure to …
By Sadie Trombetta

Bustle Editors On CPAC + 'Making A Murderer'

Adulthood is, essentially, just waiting until the weekend hits — which is why I know we're all glad it's finally Friday. Whether your plans are to catch up on all the Netflix content that'll be leaving the platform at the end of February, a weekend g…
By Danielle Colin-Thome

7 Signs Your Energy Is Closed Off To Love, According To A Psychic

Finding love requires more than just the actions of going on dates or setting up an online dating profile. It also requires opening yourself up to love and giving off the vibe that you're open. You may not even realize it if you're energetically bloc…
By Suzannah Weiss

It Took Heather Graham YEARS To Make A Movie About Women Ditching Toxic Men. The Reason? Men.

They say you should write what you know. But in Hollywood, that age-old advice apparently needs an addendum: Write what you know — as long as men are into it. And for actor and newly minted director/screenwriter Heather Graham — a woman who swam thro…
By Kelsea Stahler

Target Just Launched A Gorgeous New Home Brand — And Most Pieces Are Under $30

Design lovers rejoice! Everyone's favorite store for pretty much everything is about to make all your daring decorating dreams come true. Today, Target's corporate blog issued a press release that provides a peek into Target's new homeware line, Opal…
By Callie Tansill-Suddath

17 Brilliant Ways To Support Parkland Survivors Wherever You Are

Following the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, survivors are demanding Congress take action. A large group of students who survived the shooting are opposing politicians' "thoughts and prayers," arguing that inst…
By Sarah Beauchamp

Here's Where Your Next Trip Should Be, Based On Your Zodiac Sign

If you've been craving a vacation, now is a good time to take the plunge. According to data collected by travel site Expedia, late winters and early spring are pretty much the best times of the year to go on vacation. Based on average airfare ticket …
By Callie Tansill-Suddath

How This Quadriplegic Beauty Lover Beat Cancer & Became A Professional Makeup Artist

In 2010, one day before she was supposed to start cosmetology school, Steph Aiello was involved in a car crash that left her paralyzed from the waist down with limited ability to move her hands and one of her closest friends dead. She would spend the…
By Sara Tan

7 Common Marriage Rules That Aren't Good For Relationships

When it comes to marriage, everyone loves to give their two cents, and with all the warnings and advice floating around out there, no wonder people find marriage intimidating. Luckily, you don't always have to play by the rules, and there's some bad …
By Carina Wolff

The Infuriating Way Hollywood Movie Sets Are Designed To Make Life Harder For Women

Whitney Cummings is fed up — with the way Hollywood treats women, and in particular, the way the it treats female directors who have children. While the entertainment industry may be working hard to get more women behind the camera, Cummings wants to…
By Casey Cipriani

Why Uggs Are Never Going Away, Whether You Like Them Or Not

Uggs. The word alone can conjure up memories of teenage years, regrettable outfits, and undeniable comfort. But if, like me, you thought that you've already said goodbye to those fleece-lined tan boots, you can think again. It seems fashion has adopt…
By Lauren Sharkey

Netflix's New Romantic Movie Will Have You Crying Like It's 'The Fault In Our Stars'

Cancer movies are a heartbreaking staple of Hollywood and have been for decades. It's almost a law of nature: new year, new cancer movie. This year, it's Netflix's Irreplaceable You, a heartbreaking original about a longtime couple who get thrown for…
By Olivia Truffaut-Wong

I Got A Breast Reduction & It Was About So Much More Than The Size Of My Boobs

As a young teenager, I pretty much reached peak physical maturity overnight. One day I was wearing my first training bra a la Lizzie McGuire, and the next I was sweatily fumbling around a Victoria’s Secret with 32DD boobs, trying to summon up the cou…
By Sierra Taylor Horton

Adam Rippon and Mirai Nagasu Have Matching Tattoos & The Story Is So Cute

Olympic season gives people the feels. From those shipping Canadian ice dancing pair Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir to Shaun White's gold medal win on Tuesday, the feels are real. Now, there's another reason to get all up in your emotions. Adam Rippon a…
By Shea Simmons

A New Study Says Being In A Relationship Could Change Your Taste In Wine — Here's How

I’d be willing to bet that for many of you, a nice bottle of wine is awaiting you in your near future — and if you’re planning on sharing that bottle with a partner, there might be more to your choice than meets the eye: According to recent research,…
By Lucia Peters

Carrie Brownstein On Why Even The Obama Era Should Have Enraged You

An icy January morning soon after Hollywood's show of solidarity for the #MeToo movement at the Golden Globes and almost exactly one year into the Trump Administration feels like a momentous time to be sitting across from Carrie Brownstein. The Sleat…
By Samantha Rollins

Here’s What The Upcoming Year Of The Dog Means For Your Chinese Zodiac Sign

On Feb. 16 the world will celebrate the Chinese New Year, welcoming the Year of the Dog in like the good doggo it is — we hope. A new year means new zodiac predictions for the 365 days ahead. So, what does the Year of the Dog mean for your Chinese zo…
By Brittany Bennett

7 Signs You're Ready To Get Into A Relationship, According To Experts

It can be difficult to tell when you're ready to start dating again. Maybe you're coming off of a bad breakup, maybe you've just been focused on other things. And, ironically, one of the signs that you're ready to be in a relationship is that you're …
By Lea Rose Emery

The 15 Best Fiction Books Of February Feature Tons Of Extraordinary Women

When the cold winds of February blow in, there's nothing I want more than to hide under my covers with a good book. Luckily, there's more than a few fantastic new fiction books coming out this month, so the only tough decision you'll have to make is …
By Melissa Ragsdale